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Expectations are High Again for Notre Dame's Nationally-Ranked Volleyball Squad

The Notre Dame Academy volleyball team has a big reputation to upkeep. Last year, the Pandas were Kentucky state runner-ups and have won the championship eight times in their school history, and this year the hopes are high again.

“Winning state has to be our expectation every year, especially at a school like Notre Dame Academy and especially coming off a state runner-up year. It's the finals or bust for us,” said Pandas first-year coach, Buck McCoart.

NDA is off to a good start at 3-1, and are ranked 32nd in the nation, according to maxpreps.com., but McCoart says that despite having a lot of seniors on the team, NDA still has room for growth.

“They're not necessarily young, but young in the fact that there's not much varsity experience there, but we do have some key starters that are back from last year.”

Headlining those key starters is junior Morgan Hentz, recognized nationally as a player-of-the-year candidate and vital to her team as she plays all six rotations. Hentz has been courted by major Division-I colleges and is considering college powerhouse, Stanford, along with other schools to attend after next year.

Another is senior Alicia VonHandorf who McCoart called a great volleyball player, student and person. McCoart said that after getting to know the girls on the team, he has noticed that the two key players mentioned have been identified as leaders by their teammates. He says that even though the team doesn't have a ton of varsity experience, team leadership is not one of his worries.

“These kids play a lot of high-level club ball in the offseason. I'm not worried about their lack of experience as far as tense, high-level games goes.”

McCoart is still new to the school but has a good feel for the volleyball landscape of the area. He credited the local club programs as a big reason why NDA has remained a powerhouse in the region.

“The kids around here definitely play some good club ball,” McCoart said. “There are a lot of strong club programs around the city that give some great training and kids definitely benefit from that, and having some good coaches even at the middle schools where other places in the nation might not get that. We're lucky to have that strong foundation and by the time they get back to school, they're ready to roar. “

The adjustment into Notre Dame Academy has been exciting for McCoart. Not only does he take over a polished program, but he finds himself enjoying the upbeat atmosphere of high-school volleyball.

“It's been great. I'm very excited to get back into the pomp and circumstance of high school ball, where it's a rowdy crowd, and you have those rivalries with other schools and all the good stuff that comes with that,” he said.

On Thursday night, the Pandas should find plenty of excitement as they travel south to Louisville to take on Mercy who is ranked ninth in the country on maxpreps.com. McCoart hasn't seen a ton of Mercy, but his players certainly have.

“My girls play against a lot of these girls in the club season. They're used to them. They have the scouting report and know them better than I know them, even though I have played against some of them in club ball too,” McCoart said.

Later on in the season, the Pandas again travel to Louisville to play Assumption who has won 17 of the last 21 state championships and is ranked tenth in the nation by Max Preps. Nonetheless, NDA is a poised and confident bunch that McCoart does not think will shrivel in the spotlight against such state volleyball fixtures.

“I don't have to light any fires under my team to get them going for any team, let alone a state powerhouse and a national powerhouse like Mercy or Assumption,” said McCoart.

Written by Bryan Burke, associate editor